WHY is asking questions so important?
Although this may be counter-intuitive, the person who is asking the questions controls the negotiation dialogue, as opposed to the one doing the talking.
Asking questions enables you to:
Build rapport and trust
Gather information you need to make informed decisions
Lead/control the dialogue
Unsettle your counterpart’s attachment to a certain position/perspective
Invite a response/ get the feedback on your proposal or other actions
On this point, I just wanted to share a brief story about Rosana, a very successful entrepreneur that I was meeting with in Dubai about 7 years ago to discuss some possible work. After 15 minutes into the meeting, I was still patiently waiting for my turn to speak as Rosana was thoroughly enjoying monopolizing “the floor”. The topic was the upcoming 2-day offsite program with her whole Leadership Team that she was very excited about. But then, something happened. She was still catching her breath after her long monologue when I simply said: “Rosana, I am hearing that this is an important and exciting program for you. May I just ask you a question?… How are you going to measure success of this program?”
She stared at me blankly. We both smiled. And 5 minutes later, with some deeper questioning, we signed on a 6 months consulting engagement for me to help her work on the Business Strategy.
No pitch, nothing but a few powerful questions. Done.
WHAT are the different types of questions?
In essence, there are two types: Open-Ended Questions are those that lead your counterpart to react / respond to your question by providing information. These questions are expansive in nature and typically start with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why”. For example:
- When it comes to getting to an agreement, what is most important to you?
- How do you see this situation?
- Who are all the people involved in making this decision?
- How do you feel about our proposal?
- What other possibilities should we consider?
- Before we close for today, what else do you feel you’d like to share?
- When can we implement this agreement?
- We seem to be stalling, why do you think that is?
Close-ended Questions lead to a “YES” or “NO” response and generally start with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you”. By giving your counterpart a limited choice of responses (YES or NO), you elicit very specific response that commits and anchors them to a specific point and deliberately moves the conversation forward in a particular direction. For instance:
- Is anyone else involved in making this decision?
- So, are you saying that this problem is now resolved to your satisfaction?
- Does this proposal work for you?
- Yesterday you agreed to this point, so are you saying that you have now changed your mind?
- Are you now ready to progress?
- Should we go over our proposal again?
- Is this a sufficient time frame for you to implement this agreement?
Watch this 1:14min video to see how Harvard Business Review classified questions into 4 easy-to-understand categories, which you may find useful:
Knowing when to ask an open-ended or a close-ended question is extremely important. Done incorrectly or at the wrong time may actually entrench your counterpart’s position deeper instead of progressing the negotiation towards agreement, or “anchor” them to a specific point that will be an obstacle instead of an enabler.
Moreover, knowing how to Frame your Question is even more important, as it will determine how your counterpart will perceive it and thus the response you will get.
In other words, the HOW is crucial! Join us on this month’s webinar to discover exactly how to do this! Lastly, I recently came by a great quote from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google: “We run this company on questions, not answers.” This was a great reminder that the most important questions we ask are the ones we ask ourselves! But more on this at this month’s Key Distinctions Webinar.
It’s free – I hope you’ll join us. Until then, go out on a limb and practice asking questions! Victoria